Road safety

Families of bicycle accident victims raise road safety awareness

JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – Hundreds of cyclists are killed by vehicles each year in the United States. North Alabama is no exception, and three Jackson County families are making sure things change.

Roald Richard’s family remembers him, among other things, as an athlete. He ran triathlons and even completed an Iron Man.

“Throughout his life he always exercised, it was sort of his outlet,” Richard’s daughter, Christina Richard, told News 19.

Roald was killed on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020. He was shot while cycling for practice along Highway 79. It’s a route his daughter Christine said that he used to ride often, as it is a common route for many cyclists in the Scottsboro area.

“Just a normal morning bike ride, and it ended in tragedy,” she said.

Roald was killed by a drunk driver. His fatal accident was not the only one in Jackson County in recent years.

“Since my father died, there have been 2 other deaths in the community, which is absolutely tragic. Every time we hear about it, it’s been absolutely heartbreaking and insane,” Christina said.

John Cox and Dr Wayne Patterson were killed in 2020 and 2021 by distracted drivers.

These tragedies, said Alabama Cycling Coalition board member Jamie Miernik, are happening more frequently across the state, especially in recent years.

“It happens every day that bikes get hit from behind more than before, and again I think it’s due to distraction,” Miernik told News 19.

Christina Richard’s family, along with the Coxes and Pattersons, join countless families around the world, leaving “ghost bikes” along the roads where their loved ones died.

The bikes are first completely painted white; many, decorated with signs or souvenir pieces personalizing them. Their purpose is to raise awareness of cyclist safety and remind motorists to be careful of them.

“With this, we hope we can help raise awareness in the community. They’ll see those white bikes on the side of the road and say “good.” I have to watch out for bikers,” Richard said.

Miernik said ghost bikes not only can serve as reminders of the consequences of distracted driving, they’re also conversation starters.

“I’m not sure drivers realize that bikes are meant to be part of traffic like they are. They have the same rights and the same rules of the road,” Miernik said.

The creation of Ghost Bikes is just Christina Richard’s latest initiative to raise awareness. She first worked with the City of Scottsboro and the Alabama Department of Transportation to place “Share the Road” signs throughout the city.

She hopes these symbols are just the start of change. In the long term, she wants a more bike-friendly community.

“We have so many outdoor activities. That’s what Scottsboro is known for, it’s the lake, the hiking. We have great walking paths, I think a bike path would be the icing on the cake for our town,” Richard said. “Hopefully they can move on to put in more bike lanes, maybe on the side of the road, an extra shoulder, an extra 12 inches. Maybe the next time they pave a road, add those extra 12 inches so the rider can travel safely.

This, Miernik echoes for all cities.

“The planning, unfortunately, has been mainly for most road users, i.e. cars, but bicycles in some areas are progressing in road use and that has to be part of the formula. road,” Miernik said.